We cannot stand by and let Darfur’s people die

By James Smith, chief executive of the Aegis Trust. Response to ‘Sorry George Clooney, but…‘ and ‘The inhumane folly…‘ (THE GUARDIAN, 21/09/06):

Jonathan Steele’s attack on the Darfur “something must be done brigade” was reinforced by Simon Jenkins yesterday, who sought to complicate simple moral choices (Sorry George Clooney, but the last thing Darfur needs is western troops, September 19; The inhumane folly of our interventionist machismo, September 20).With Amnesty International and the Darfur Union, the Aegis Trust organised London’s Day for Darfur rally on Sunday, as tens of thousands in more than 40 countries took up the call for the protection of Darfur’s Africans.

Steele implies the movement to protect Darfur is driven in the United States by the Christian right and Israel’s friends, among others. But to which lobby does he ascribe Darfur’s three million African Muslims, hundreds of whom joined Sunday’s demonstration? Or Britain’s Muslim Parliament, which supported the call? Of course ethnic identity is fluid. But Steele should not blame activists for creating a “simple template of Arab versus African”. As in the Holocaust, Rwanda and Bosnia before them, it is the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing in Darfur who define their victims using a simple template.

Steele asserts that the campaign for Darfur’s protection is used by some people as part of a move to replace the government in Khartoum, as does Jenkins, who mocks: “Real men do war and regime change.” On the contrary, protection of civilians will give the Darfur peace agreement a chance; Khartoum is part of that. Jenkins wrongly calls Darfur’s rebellion a separatist struggle. However, without intervention from the United Nations, there will indeed be calls for independence: frustration is pushing at least one rebel group towards this dangerous position.

Painting the crisis in Darfur as merely a civil war encourages further delays – which could cause the loss of thousands of lives. The motives of the perpetrators in Darfur go well beyond territorial conflict. As put by one Janjaweed: “We have a dream. We want to kill the Africans.”

We do not “clamour for UN intervention” that is nothing more than “a change of badges”. The UN is the mechanism to make this work properly. Nor is this a call for western troops: the top five UN troop-contributing countries are Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Jordan and Nepal. Britain comes in 32nd, the US 33rd.

I agree with Steele that intervention against Sudan’s wishes is fraught with danger. The UN should mobilise on the Chad-Darfur border. From there, a rapid reaction force could be hours rather than months away from vulnerable civilians.

Ibrahim Bagal, of the Darfur Students Association, sent a message out of Khartoum on Sunday: “Today you confirm the words of John Donne, ‘Any man’s death diminishes me.’ Today the people of Darfur will feel the whole world is standing up for them and will never feel alone, abandoned or deserted anymore.”

In 1994 Jenkins wrote a piece in the Times entitled Leave Rwanda Alone. Several million dead Africans later, he hasn’t noticed the world getting smaller.